Swearing: Fair and Foul Language

It used to be where “decent” people talked, well, decent—no cussin’ like sailors or barbarians. It used to be that certain language was censored off the TV and radio, so as not to offend. It used to be that Christians believed that our words should be pure and upright, and no Bible-totin’ Christian would be caught saying those “dirty” words.

Well, times have changed, now, haven’t they? Now, just about everyone, including young children, have a colorful vocabulary. Very few words are not allowed on the TV or radio anymore. And Christians have, to some extent, joined the culture in expressing their feelings with just as much flavor as anyone else.

My question is: What does the Bible say?

The obvious place to start is in the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20.7. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Some of you may recognize it from its King James Version form: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

First of all, “the name” equals the identity of the deity and expresses who he is in his very nature. Think “identity theft.” His name is who He is. In those days people would invoke the name of the god to accomplish something they wanted done. So at least one part of the command is that you have no business trying to control what God does for your own self-interests. Unlike the gods of mythology, the God of the Bible is primarily known by his name (as opposed to some natural event, like the rain or the sun). The name, then, is the only thing that God’s people have by which to know and worship him, so the name is as sacred as God himself.

Next, let’s look at “misuse.” It means not to use a name unnecessarily, idly, treating it as if it were worthless and meaningless. It covers any careless or irreverent use of the name of God. So from this there is at least one thing we know for sure: Saying “Oh my God,” or “God” in exclamation, is about the worst blasphemy possible, and according to Exodus 20.7, anyone who misuses God’s name so casually will be held guilty. It’s tragic that it is the most frequent exclamation in America. What does a person say when they win on the radio? What do they say when they are surprised? What do they say in doubt? Disbelief? Shock? Sympathy? Exactly. Regardless of anything else, this is the worst, for it is a deep offense to God.

On to the other words. What about all those other juicy words that give spice to our speech? For that I’ll take you Ephesians 4.29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Well, just what is “unwholesome talk”? It means “bad, evil, corrupt, unwholesome, putrid, rotten.” It was used of plants and trees that had gone bad. It means our talk isn’t supposed to be brash, rude, aggressive, and self-defensive. It’s supposed to be helpful, positive, and full of grace. So I guess you need to decide which of those words you use, common as they may be in the culture, are helpful, positive, and full of grace.

What about Colossians 3.8, where Paul addresses a list of sins of the tongue: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” The word translated “filthy language” means filthy talk, vulgar, talk, low and obscene speech. What words fall under this category? I think you know. We call them swear words here in America. And even though they are now commonplace on radio and TV, we all know what words they are. Such language should never be on the lips of a believer in Christ living a new life in him.

This just goes on and on, and the verses all say the same thing: Matt. 12.34-37; Lk. 6.45; James 3.2-12, Phil. 2.15; Ps. 19.14; Eph. 5.3, 4. It’s inescapable. We are accountable for the words we say, and Christians are to be known for their, let’s say, lack of this vocabulary. Instead Ps. 19.14: May the words of my mouth be acceptable in [God’s] sight. Or Ps. 141.3: [Lord] keep watch over what I say. Colossians 4.6: Let your speech always be seasoned with grace. There are dozens of these. Colossians 3.17: Whatever you say or do, let it be in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God through Him.

Hey, you wanted to know what the Bible said. Now it’s important for you to understand the importance of what you say, and how you say it. Matthew 12.37 says, “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

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